CBS CEO Leslie Moonves at the Consumer Electronics Show
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The invite comes via a beta test with Sling Media in which Slingbox owners can clip content from live and recorded programming, upload it to a public-facing web portal and share it with the world.
Signifies major shift
It's no stretch to suggest that a year ago this would have been every TV executive's nightmare. The move signals a realization among major media companies that they can't stop the YouTube effect -- people are going to post their favorite content clips online anyway. It's a kind of "if you can't beat them, join them, legally" philosophy.
Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive, admitted that sometimes new solutions can come from unexpected places, including those that media companies may have previously pegged as disrupters. "We think this new capability, if done with consideration for content owners, is intriguing and worthy of study," he said in a statement announcing the new test.
A Slingbox device allows viewers to "place shift" TV programming. The box, which is the size of a brick, attaches to a TV and sends live and recorded programming to a PC or laptop with Slingplayer software loaded onto it. To "clip" a show, a Sling user simply streams a program to a computer and then indicates where they the clip should start and stop. While the procedure sounds confusing, it's easier than the current process of uploading TV clips to the internet -- to do that, viewers must have video tuner cards in their PCs and software to capture, encode and upload the clip.
Ad model unclear
Key for CBS will be the advertising component of the deal. Every clip that a Slingbox owner nabs and uploads will fall into a pool of inventory that CBS can sell against. The business model has not been finalized, but could include a revenue-sharing agreement -- CBS could sell the bulk of the ads or split the inventory; CBS might sell some of the ads against the clips and Sling might have a portion to sell others.
Mr. Smith came to CBS two months ago from Allen & Co., an investor in Sling, so he was familiar with the technology. Sling, meanwhile, launched an entertainment group a month ago, headed by former MTV digital chief Jason Hirschhorn.
Mr. Hirschhorn's group has been charged with building a community around Sling, making it more of a platform than a piece of hardware and creating "out of the box" experiences (Mr. Hirschhorn's pun).
And he points out that while doing such a test might be scary, "clip culture is a reality." While media companies are striking deals with companies like YouTube, viewers are also uploading their own clips, and it's difficult for media companies to know exactly how many clips they have up at any given time.
The Sling test creates "perfect accounting," said Mr. Hirschhorn. "You know exactly what's there."